Pet Loss During the Pandemic: Grief, Isolation and Our Mental Health
The pandemic is an unprecedented global health, social and economic crisis. Canada was already in the midst of a mental health crisis prior to COVID-19; the pandemic has added to this crisis . The long-term disruption of our daily routines and the threat of more serious implications from COVID-19 has put a strain on everyone. As a pet loss grief recovery counsellor, I see first hand the effects of compounded grief during these uncertain times. Oftentimes when we experience a loss, we experience one loss at a time. Compounded grief - a maladaptive coping mechanism that can occur after a traumatic loss of a loved one  - complicates the whole grieving process which can already be complicated enough on its own. Pet loss is traumatic, pet loss during a pandemic can cause significant and long-term impairment in functioning.
A scroll through social media feeds during the pandemic reflects the importance of the human-animal bond and how many are more actively interacting with their pets as they find themselves isolated and distanced from the outside world. A pet can serve as a coping tool during difficult periods . Pets provide companionship, acceptance, emotional support and unconditional love in the face of social isolation and high anxiety. Research has shown that animals help us cope better with social isolation particularly individuals who live alone and older adults.
According to the DSM-5, the diagnostic manual of the American Psychiatric Association, grief can be more intense than a depression episode. Research shows that the death of a family pet can result in significant grief and the bond between an animal and a human can be greater than the bond between a human and a human . Those who live alone may feel a loss of purpose and an immense emptiness. For children, pet loss may be their first experience with death. Death of a bonded relationship can force us to suddenly need to redefine ourselves - a difficult task at the best of times. A report identified several risk factors that can intensify the grief reaction; reliance on a companion animal for support and gratitude towards a companion animal for getting us through a difficult time in life . For many individuals faced with pet loss now, these factors are intertwined.
Pet loss counselling is a new, relatively niche practice in Canada. Originating in Europe it has expanded through the States and is slowly gaining foothold in Canada. Therapy is focused on the many life altering intricacies of pet loss in all age groups and capacities. As a certified pet loss grief recovery counsellor I understand the impact of a human-animal bond and the multifaceted bereavement process when faced with its loss. I work to not only help my clients navigate their grief journey but also to validate their grief and offer support to an individual which is often lacking elsewhere. Most clients having experienced the death of a companion animal will wait to bring up their experience until it’s relatable to something more socially acceptable - we need to talk about pet loss during the pandemic.
For further information or media inquiries contact Helen Goldberg, PGRS-C:
 Mental Health in Canada: Covid-19 and Beyond CAMH Policy Advice July 2020
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